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4 Robots That Can Shape the Future of Amazon's Fulfillment Centers

By Brian Withers and Toby Bordelon - Jan 17, 2022 at 7:00AM

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Meet Ernie, Bert, Scooter, and Kermit.

In this clip from "3 Minute Stocks Updates" on Motley Fool Live, recorded on Jan. 5, Motley Fool contributors Brian Withers and Toby Bordelon talk about the four robots Amazon (AMZN 3.66%) introduced as an effort to improve worker safety while also increasing business efficiency.

Toby Bordelon: Amazon seems like your relatively high-tech company dealing with a low-tech problem like labor shortages. Do you have any sense that they're turning to automation? That they're using a high-tech solution to these problems if you look at labor shortages?

Brian Withers: Yes, they are. Actually, they've had to hire hundreds of thousands of workers and most of these workers are in their fulfillment centers. Over the past year or so, they've been focused on worker safety. Think about it. Why would they do that? If a worker gets hurt on the job, they likely have to take time off. They have medical expenses because it's an on the job injury, and potentially, the company could lose an experienced worker. Introducing four new robots named Ernie, Bert, Scooter, and Kermit. We have a little bit of time. I'm going to take a look. I'm going to share what these robots do real quick. Here we go. Here is Ernie. Ernie supports workers. You see there's these totes, and then the robot, this is Ernie, puts them on a pallet or a rack. You can see Ernie over there on the upper left doing that. Not very exciting, but if you think about doing this all day with potentially heavy totes, this is absolutely an area that the company saw that was having repetitive worker injuries. Let's look at Bert. What does Bert do? Bert is like, I don't know, you can think of it as your runner, so it runs around. Somebody had put this laptop on Bert and said go to this location in the warehouse and it goes and drives there, like an autonomous car. You can set pretty heavy things on there. It walks in the pedestrian aisle and it's keeping that safe. Let's look at what Scooter does. Scooter is a much bigger robot. Look at this guy. See these carts over here? It's going to lock these carts in and drive them around. Likely, this is in the receiving area where they're receiving product coming in or putting stuff away. These carts are very heavy, and if you have to stop them, there's certainly injuries. You can see how many carts this robot can autonomously drive to locations where they need to go. Lastly, we got Kermit. Kermit is the Uber (UBER 2.47%) for empty totes. [laughs] Basically, Amazon goes through fulfillment centers. Think about it. They go through tons and tons of totes, and when they're done, nobody likes to put these things away or get them back to the beginning of the line. Think of your grocery carts at your grocery store, how often people have to recycle through them and this is what happens in that Kermit is set up to deliver those back to the location that they need to go. Did I even share my screen?

Bordelon: Well, we didn't see Kermit.

Withers: Didn't see Kermit, OK, well, that's alright. These are not sexy jobs but they fit a key business case for these human helpers by doing things that are dull, dangerous, or difficult.

Bordelon: So you're saying Amazon is using robots because it makes business sense and saves them money, not because they just love their people and don't want them getting hurt.

Withers: Yes. [laughs]

Bordelon: There we go. It's OK to be a little cynical in this show, I think. [laughs] You can save money while doing what's good for your employees, I think.

Withers: Well, those are really mundane tasks and boring, and you do that all day, you're likely going to hurt yourself. I would much rather be packing stuff for customers, or picking, or whatever.

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